Welcoming piglets to your farm is a super exciting time. It’s something that we look forward to immensely on our farm. But with that excitement comes a lot of preparation, commitment and of course stress for a successful farrowing or birth of your litter of piglets! Just like the expectant mama to be, you as the farmer have a lot of nesting and preparation too. Read on to see how we prepared our sow for her farrowing!
Over the last 100+ days you have watched your sow grow bigger and bigger and bigger. We track the due date of our sow closely and she is kept separate from the boar up until mating so we can really track the time the piglets are due. 1 week before farrowing, she is separated once again from the boar and any other hogs into her own birthing pen where she will enjoy peace and quiet and plenty of rest. (If you have a large amount of hogs that often battle over food, you want to make sure your sow is separated far in advance so she gets all the nutrients she needs. We do not keep a lot of hogs together at once, so for us she is able to stay with her group until 1 week prior). This is a photo of Mavis about one week before farrowing just after separating her and then on the day of farrowing. You will notice in your own hogs that in the last 2-3 weeks their udders and stomach begin to drop drastically almost appearing to change overnight! On the day of farrowing, you should notice your sow “bagging up” and dropping even more drastically.
The climate we live in is mild and doesn’t often get below freezing. We supply our hogs with a large overhead shelter and in the case of our sows, plenty of straw to make her nest with. For this birthing, we added 12,000 pounds of sand under the overhead shelter to ensure it was very dry and raised above the other areas in the pen so the piglets would be safe in rain storms. If the weather was going to be colder, we would enclose the overhead shelter but adding heat lamps proved to be enough added heat for the first few days of life. Below is a photo of our sow after we added all of her sand and some pine straw before adding the grass straw later.
A diet high in protein is going to ensure plenty of milk is being produced for the soon to arrive piglets! Our sow gets a variety of real food in place of a diet of pellets only. She gets a lot of fruit and veggies like squash and apples and greens like spinach, mustard greens and collards. She also gets cottage cheese, yogurt and fresh raw eggs. During the last week of the pregnancy we do begin to supplement pellets into the diet along with everything else but she only gets 2 cups per feeding mixed with the rest of the food. One important thing is to not overfeed expectant sows because it can lead to pregnancy complications. It’s definitely a messy, gross mixture, but our hogs seem to love it and truly thrive on their diets. Below is Mavis a few days before farrowing enjoying one of her high protein meals!
On the morning of Mavis’ due date, I woke up to her being very restless around 8am. She was dragging any last items she could find in her pen up to her nest. She even drug a hose through the fence and into the pen and into the nest. She had also “bagged up” and her teats had dropped much lower and appeared to be more defined than previously. From the first signs of restlessness, you can normally figure it will be about 6-8 hours until farrowing. To help her through the restlessness, I allowed her to leave her pen and walk the property. I followed close behind keeping an eye on her. She walked the perimeter of the property twice and then walked a path into the woods. She was probably out walking for about 1.5 hours. The only time I didn’t allow her to go where she wanted was if she was heading toward the road. Otherwise I gave her freedom to chose where she’d like to go. She visited all the other animals as well which was pretty funny. She went to the rabbits, chickens and even the horse and of course the other hogs. She probably walked at least a mile before deciding enough was enough and going back to her nest in her pen. She laid in a mud puddle a few times, got something to drink but did not have any interest in eating. By 2pm she was spending most of her time laying on her side. I checked her teats for milk production at 3pm and she had begun to release the milk. She did get up a couple more time for water but continued to show no interest in eating.
At 4:25pm Mavis began to very visibly contract. As she laid on her side, her stomach tensed and she stretched her legs straight and brought them toward each other toward the center of her stomach. This happened two times and on the third time, the first baby was born! Each baby born there after followed the same pattern of contractions. Mavis also began shivering after the first piglet was born. This is also normal and continued through the birth. The temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit by 7pm, so to assist the piglets in getting dry as quickly as possible, I had a towel at the ready. I gently laid them onto the towel and wiped off all of the thin sac covering their body. I paid extra close attention that the sac near the nose and mouth was wiped clean and that each piglet seemed to be breathing normally without any sounds of struggle. Immediately after wiping them off, I let them climb around to Mavis’ teats and try to nurse. It’s a little stressful to watch because you want to help them but you also want them to be able to latch on their own. If after 5 minutes, the piglets were still struggling to find a teat and latch, I assisted them. I only had to do this to a handful of them. As more piglets were born, I made sure the piglets were all able to find milk equally. Their tendency was to all crawl and fight over the same teat. So by gently goading them to other teats, it helped ensure everyone had a fair chance. A big problem with piglet birth is the tendency for them to be crushed under the mom. By sitting and watching, I was able to help piglets that were stuck between Mavis’ legs or their umbilical cord tangled with others causing them to be stuck. Mavis labored for 2.5 hours and successfully farrowed 9 healthy piglets!
After all 9 piglets were born and Mavis seemed to be finished laboring, I left her to tend to her piglets. I wanted to wait to make sure she passed the entire placenta, but everyone in my house had been sick and I was starting to feel feverish. I had to believe that I did all I could to help the piglets and get some rest myself. In the morning, all 9 pigs were happy, healthy and nursing. Mavis seemed happy as well! I watched them all nursing successfully and monitored Mavis’ milk supply. The next few weeks will be crucial in keeping the survival rate at 100%. With a lot of vigilance and knowing and monitoring Mavis, I’m hopeful that we will continue with our 100% survival rate!